Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Tehran Conference (28 November–1 December 1943)

Title: Big Three meet in Tehran during World War II
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One of the most important Allied conferences during the war. Usually overshadowed by the later Yalta Conference, the meeting at Tehran was in fact equally or more important than Yalta because of the decisions that were made there. Attending were the "Big Three"—U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The conference was also the first face-to-face meeting between Roosevelt and Stalin. The Soviet leader claimed that his wartime responsibilities would not allow him to travel far, so the conference, code-named eureka, took place at Tehran, Iran; the journey to Tehran was Stalin's first trip abroad since 1912. Held from 28 November to 1 December 1943, the conference was immediately preceded by a meeting at Cairo (code-named sextant) that involved Chinese Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and featured a discussion of the Allied effort against Japan. Since the Soviet Union was not then at war with Japan, Stalin refused to attend that meeting, necessitating the eureka conference.

At the Tehran meeting, Roosevelt was convinced that he could win over Stalin, and toward that end, he turned on all his formidable charm to try to secure the Soviet leader's confidence. At Tehran and later at Yalta, Roosevelt deliberately distanced himself from Churchill, a serious mistake. The British prime minister could not believe that the democracies would take separate paths.

The Western leaders labored under a number of disadvantages at Tehran. The first involved the strategic military situation. British and U.S. troops were then fighting the Germans only in Italy with 14 divisions, whereas the Soviet Union had 178 divisions locked in combat. If the Tehran Conference marked the beginning of the Soviet empire, it also reflected the reality of forces on the ground. In addition, the Western leaders feared that Stalin might yet seek a diplomatic accommodation with Adolf Hitler, and Roosevelt was also anxious to secure Soviet assistance in the war against Japan.

At Tehran, Stalin pressured the West on an early date for an Allied invasion of France. The Soviet ambassador to London, Ivan Maisky, had counseled Stalin to press for an immediate second front, which he knew was impossible, in order to secure additional Lend-Lease aid. Stalin insisted on learning the name of the commander of overlord as proof that the Western Allies were indeed serious about a cross-Channel invasion, and in a follow-up meeting in Cairo after eureka, Roosevelt named General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the post. The three leaders also spent a great deal of time discussing Germany and its possible future division at Tehran. Roosevelt suggested splitting Germany into five states and internationalizing the Ruhr and other areas. Churchill, fearful of potential Soviet expansion into Europe, thought that Prussia might be detached from the rest of Germany.

Discussions over Poland were more controversial. All three leaders agreed on the Oder River as the future Polish-German boundary, but the Western leaders rejected the Soviet demand that a tributary of the Oder, the Western Neisse River, be the southern demarcation line. Nor did they sanction Poland securing the important port of Stettin on the west bank of the Oder. The three did concur that Poland would receive most of East Prussia, although the Soviet Union claimed the Baltic port of Königsberg (the future Kaliningrad) and land to the northeast. The Western leaders could hardly oppose the Curzon Line, established by the victorious Allies at the Paris Peace Conference following World War I, as the eastern boundary of Poland. The British did object, however, to the Soviet seizure of the predominantly Polish city of L'viv (Lvov).

Churchill pointed out to Stalin that Britain had gone to war over Poland, but Stalin insisted that the Red Army needed security in its rear areas and that a primary goal of the war was to protect the Soviet Union against future German attack. Obviously, a Poland that had been compensated for the loss of its eastern territory to the Soviet Union by receiving German territory in the west would necessarily have to look to the Soviet Union for security. Later, Churchill had the difficult task of promoting all these arrangements to the Polish government-in-exile in London; the large Polish community in the United States was also upset by then. Stalin refused normal diplomatic relations with the London Poles, charging that they were stirring up trouble for the Red Army. No independent Polish government would ever concede changes that put the country at the Soviet Union's mercy. Thus, a Polish government subservient to Moscow was probably inevitable.

Stalin also demanded that the Soviet Union be allowed to keep its 1939–1940 acquisitions of Bessarabia, the Karelian isthmus, and the Baltic states. Although these acquisitions were clear violations of the Atlantic Charter, the siege of Leningrad gave Stalin a strong argument for a security zone there. He also demanded that Finland cede its Arctic port of Petsamo, pay heavy reparations, and provide space for a base to protect sea approaches to Leningrad. In return, he promised to respect Finland's independence, assuming that country behaved properly.

Stalin reassured Roosevelt that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany. He also stressed the importance of an Allied invasion of France to relieve pressure on the Red Army from German troops on the Eastern Front. Further, Stalin expressed the view that a landing in southern France (the future Operation anvil) would be most helpful. He was pleased when the Western leaders told him that the invasion of northern France (Operation overlord) was scheduled for May 1944. He promised to launch a Soviet ground offensive to coincide with it. The three leaders also agreed that after the war, Iran, which was serving as a supply corridor to the Soviet Union and occupied by Allied troops, would be restored to full territorial integrity and sovereignty and that all troops would be withdrawn.

Although the Tehran Conference served to dissipate tensions between the two Western leaders and Stalin, sharp differences on the conduct of the war and the composition of postwar Europe remained. These differences were very much in evidence at the February 1945 Yalta Conference.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Dunn, Walter Scott. Second Front Now, 1943. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980.; Edmonds, Robin. The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in War and Peace. New York: Norton, 1991.; Feis, Herbert. Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957.; Fischer, Louis. The Road to Yalta: Soviet Relations, 1941–1945. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.; Gardner, Lloyd C. Spheres of Influence: The Great Powers Partition Europe, from Munich to Yalta. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993.; Mastny, Vojtech. Russia's Road to the Cold War: Diplomacy, Warfare, and the Politics of Communism, 1941–1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.; Nadeau, Remi. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt Divide Europe. New York: Praeger, 1990.; Perlmutter, Amos. FDR and Stalin: A Not So Grand Alliance, 1943–1945. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993.; Sainsbury, Keith. The Turning Point: Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek, 1943—The Moscow, Cairo, and Teheran Conferences. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.; Szaz, Zoltan Michael. Germany's Eastern Frontiers: The Problem of the Oder-Neisse Line. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1960.
 

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